Welcome to the Tuesday Fake Punt, your new skip-through guide to the weekly NFL stories you might – or might not – be talking about, complete with subheadings themed on fake punts.
Blocked Punt Returned For TD
It was a bad week for kickers, be it through incompetence begetting unemployment (Zane Gonzalez, Daniel Carlson) or injury (Greg Zuerlein). But special teams are about more than field goals, and the Vikings seem to be making an early run for worst unit in football. Daniel Carlson’s afternoon was of course inexcusable at the top level. You expect kickers to struggle from 50 yards and beyond. Carlson missed from 48 and 49, which isn’t ideal, but the 35-yarder in OT was the killer. Minnesota have signed Dan Bailey, a historically accurate kicker the Cowboys decided they didn’t want to pay the going rate for.
Will that solve anything in the long run? Or do their problems run further? Carlson was drafted because the Vikings couldn’t rely on Kai Forbath in high-pressure situations. Forbath only came in because Blair Walsh’s case of the yips carried over from the 2016 NFC Divisional round into the regular season. That speaks of either a lapse in scouting or coaching. Either way, poor decisions means questions should be asked about how the Vikings run special teams under Mike Zimmer. Why special teams as a whole? Well, did you see the Packers’ punt-block-6 in Sunday’s game? Yup.
We’ve all been there. The clock’s steadfastly refusing to get to 12 o’clock; we’re bored, hungry, and asking ourselves if it’s come to this. But while we’re wed to our soul-sapping data entry job by the broken UK housing market, Vontae Davis has no such concerns. Yes, it may be disrespectful and all that, I’m fine with that. But who among us hasn’t got halfway through the workday and been desperate to leap out of the office into a different life? Vontae Davis might be the hero we need.
Bomb Down The Sideline, 60-yard TD
So this year’s early quarterbacking heroes are…Pat Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick?
Look, if anyone outside the Chiefs organisation – and I include fans in this – saw Pat Mahomes’ start to the season coming, they’re lying. Or they were projecting what they wanted to happen into actual insight, and it bizarrely came true. 10 touchdown passes in 2 games is phenomenal enough, but Mahomes adapted his game to take advantage of where the matchups were in his favour. Travis Kelce had a quiet week 1 before Mahomes found a sweet spot for him against Pittsburgh. Look. We know that Andy Reid teams start strongly before fading. But Mahomes’ start to the season is unprecedented. Skepticism over giving the franchise to a second-year player with one Week 17 start might’ve been warranted, but was utterly, utterly unnecessary.
As for Ryan Fitzpatrick? Well, his is the career that just won’t go away. Seems everywhere he goes he can light up the league for a little while. His days of parlaying that into a bumper contract are likely gone, sure. But he’s got strong connections with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, OJ Howard and Chris Godwin already. And in new OC Todd Monken’s thrilling offense, surely it would be madness to go straight back to Jameis Winston once his suspension for sexual assault ends after Week 2. The entertaining wrinkle? Fitzpatrick now gets to face the Steelers team Mahomes just destroyed.
Ready to feel old? This is what Conor MacGregor looks like now (Mark LoMoglio/AP)
Fake Punt! Punter Takes It To The House!
My favourite play of the weekend? A lost-looking Blaine Gabbert having his pass batted down, catching it again, switching hands and throwing it out of bounds. A penalty, of course, but if ever a play should be legal, it should be a pratfalling cavalcade like that.
Attempted Sneak; Fails
Received wisdom is that teams starting 0-2 have around a 10% chance to make the playoffs. The Saints inhabited that 10% last year, but you can’t expect lightning to strike twice. That’s why this weekend’s win over the Browns was so important. It’s about as ugly a win as you can get, with defense stifling offense and miscues from stars. But 1-1 looks a whole heap different to 0-2.
Sadly, I doubt 0-1-1 looks any different to 0-2 to Cleveland. Hue Jackson was again out-thought late as his decisions – along with those of kicker Zane Gonzalez – doomed the Browns to yet another defeat. This is a talented group though, particularly on defense with tackle Larry Ogunjobi standing out. It’s hard to imagine whoever takes over from Jackson being anything but delighted with the raw material to work with.
Guard Runs For 13 Yards, 1st Down
Colts’ defensive end Margus Hunt has a fascinating backstory. Growing up in a small town in Estonia, he was a European Junior Champion in javelin and shot put. Hunt took an athletics scholarship to SMU, but they dropped their athletics programme. So, he took up NFL, becoming a raw-but-hyped prospect in 2013, and getting drafted in the second round by Cincinnati.
One of the battles NFL players face is being asked to produce in a system that doesn’t make the most of their talents. Already 26 before he played an NFL snap, Hunt battled injuries and a system that didn’t make the most of his size-speed-athleticism combo.
Five years later, and Hunt is playing defensive end and finally showing off that athletic talent. Hunt has sacks, impressive run stuffs, and has collapsed the pocket plenty already this year. Just needing time and sympathetic scheming, it makes you wonder how many other would-be game-wreckers have been stymied by coaching circumstances beyond their control.
At age 31, Margus Hunt is finally thriving in Indianapolis (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Turnover on downs at midfield
Case Keenum has built a reputation in the league for being gutsy in the face of adversity. Yes, he’s not the most talented passer with the strongest arm in the league. And yes, it would be to no-one’s surprise if, even following a good season, Denver takes a quarterback in the first round next draft. But Keenum still offers much; on Sunday it was key fourth-quarter drives to win a game for a hitherto hapless Broncos team.
Denver had been outplayed by Oakland through two-and-seven-eights quarters. Derek Carr completed all but three passes all game. 29-of-32 for 288 yards! But Oakland couldn’t convert, and Keenum gritted his teeth and got Denver through, and to a 2-0 record. Oakland, meanwhile, are fading late in games as teams adjust and they do not. Oh, and they can’t pressure the quarterback. Didn’t they have that pass rusher guy, you ask? The former Defensive Player of the Year? Whatever happened to him?
It wouldn’t be a column called “fake punt” without a weekly award for the best punt-based trick play. This week, check out All-Pro safety Kevin Byard, lobbing a bomb to uncovered gunner Dane Cruikshank on the sideline for a long TD that set Tennessee on their way to beating Houston. And yes, that’s Dane Cruikshank. Not Dan.